Your eight-year-old hears things. Your son hears wild stories. Your daughter sees the constant allure of commercials. He hears the taunts of the schoolyard. She feels an inner dread growing out of her many fears. How do you help your eight-year-old child with such difficult issues? What is needed most is the news of the gospel; specifically, the good news of the grace of God. The word gospel means “good news.” Matthew speaks of the Jesus proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. That is, the good news of the kingdom where Jesus is King. This good news means that people can be rescued from darkness. Your eight-year-old already knows something of this darkness. He knows the darkness personally from the fears and brokenness caused by his own sin. He also knows of the darkness from the ugliness of the world around him. Perhaps he has experienced the death of someone close to him. Or perhaps she has heard the cruel taunts of other children. He may have experienced the vicious devastation of a “natural” disaster or the ravages of war. Whatever the source, he has seen and experienced the attacks of the kingdom of darkness. He was born a slave to this darkness. The good news is that Jesus is able to rescue him from darkness. The gospel matters.
The world, however, offers other alternatives to the gospel. These alternatives are offered because the natural world is deeply offended by the idea that it needs to be rescued. So the world offers its own solutions for your eight-year-old. Fears are said to be overcome by success. Selfishness is countered with a call to give back to others. Pride in accomplishment is seen as the answer to self-doubt and personal shortcomings. Many of the answers the world offers may be good things in themselves: education, enjoyment of the outdoors, athletic accomplishments, works of service in the community, artistic skill. The reality is that none of the world’s answers to the rule of darkness will ultimately help. In the end they only yield bitter fruit.
There is also another voice offering solutions to the rule of darkness. It is the voice of the flesh. The solutions the flesh offers are more unpleasant than the “good” solutions of the world. If someone is unkind to you, retaliate against them! If you don’t have what you want, take it from someone else. If someone exposes your faults, let your bitterness overflow. If things don’t go well in school, blame someone else. If you don’t fit in, embrace seclusion.
The problems that an eight-year-old faces are not ones that he will outgrow. He may grow physically, and he may grow in his social skills, but the dark issues of the heart will never leave him unless he comes to believe the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel matters!
The temptation that parents face is to use the world’s solutions and to minimize the sins of the flesh. The world’s solutions often seem to work. “Surely,” the parent reasons, “my child’s life will be better if he is part of a sports team, or if she is acknowledged for her accomplishment in music or other art. If he is moody or withdrawn, he will get over it. He just needs some space. But these are the solutions of the world and the flesh. They will always look like they have promise–but what they offer, they cannot deliver. The gospel matters!
Offering the gospel of Jesus to your eight-year-old means that the gospel must matter, really matter, to you. As an adult, you struggle with the same core, heart issues that your child does. Christ died so that we could live in the beauty of light rather than under the tyranny of darkness.
To help your child know the freedom the gospel offers, you must know your child. You must, to some degree, understand his fears and struggles. You must understand how he views what is happening in his world. Once again, this brings us to Deuteronomy 6. When you speak to him about God and your love of God and his ways, it must be connected with the world your child inhabits. There must be an understanding of the issues in his heart if you are going to be a faithful shepherd. So, we see again, as with toddlers, offering the hope of the gospel is so much more than the transfer of information.
To be a faithful parent and faithful shepherd, you must intimately know your Savior and your child. This means a sacrificial commitment to both Christ and your child. To know them both, you must love them both. There are no shortcuts. To be a good shepherd you must be in loving submission to your shepherd. The outward behavior is only the first layer of concern. Reaching the heart is what really matters. And reaching the heart is where the gospel matters most.